Penn Vet challenged by a 24 percent reduction in state funding

Penn Vet agro-terrorism excercise, researcher

At top, Penn Vet hosts an FBI agro-terrorism exercise at New Bolton Center, the school's large animal hospital.

On June 26, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell proposed a revised budget for the Commonwealth, a move to tighten spending in response to the global financial recession. Facing a deficit, these cuts include a proposed 24 percent reduction in funding for Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

This proposed cut of more than $10 million will impact the Vet School’s ability to safeguard public health across the state and region, says Joan Hendricks, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine. Routinely, the Vet School and its two hospitals partner with state, federal and local governments to prevent economically devastating livestock and poultry diseases. The school helps to monitor quality control across the nation’s fourth largest dairy-producing state, fifth largest city, 2,300 food processing plants and 58,000 farms.

“Budget cuts now may limit the Commonwealth’s ability to monitor the region’s food supply or train the next generation of veterinarians at a time when the emergence of animal-to-human diseases and agri-business make it most necessary,” says Hendricks.

Outbreaks from the past make a compelling case for consistent veterinary funding. In 1983-84, an uncontrolled avian influenza outbreak killed 17 million birds and cost Pennsylvania $60 million in eradication efforts. In 1997, when avian influenza was again identified in Pennsylvania, the cost to diagnose and control the disease had fallen to $3.5 million. Most recently, in 2001, Penn Vet—in cooperation with industry and state government—was able to control and prevent a widespread outbreak of avian influenza for just $400,000, a savings of $59 million from the first outbreak.

Despite the integral role veterinary schools play in public health, there is little national support for vet programs. In fact, virtually all U.S. veterinary medical programs with public responsibilities are facing cuts. One example is the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System, which will soon close after providing diagnostic services for diseases in livestock, poultry and horses for 59 years.

Vet schools across the nation are challenged, even when fully funded, to attract bright students to an intensive field of study that promises low starting salaries. There are only 2,500 new veterinarians across the country each year. And this year, their hands-on experience with safety inspections, large animal farms and bio-terrorism drills may be reduced along with funding.

Some veterinarians treat the beloved family pet. But others work with large animals, ensuring Pennsylvania’s swine and livestock are healthy and disease free; support the region’s horse racing industry; or study cancer, regenerative medicine and neuroscience in order to design better treatments for diseases of animals and people. With these numerous public health responsibilities, veterinary schools require stable sources of public funding.

For more information, visit the Vet School's website at www.vet.upenn.edu and click on the first item under "In the News."

Originally published on July 10, 2009